The pentameric complex of human cytomegalovirus: Cell tropism, virus dissemination, immune response and vaccine development

Giuseppe Gerna, Maria Grazia Revello, Fausto Baldanti, Elena Percivalle, Daniele Lilleri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Between the 1980s and 1990s, three assays were developed for diagnosis of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) infections: leuko (L)-antigenemia, L-viremia and L-DNAemia, detecting viral protein pp65, infectious virus and viral DNA, respectively, in circulating leukocytes Repeated initial attempts to reproduce the three assays in vitro using laboratory-adapted strains and infected cell cultures were consistently unsuccessful. Results were totally reversed when wild-type HCMV strains were used to infect either fibroblasts or endothelial cells. Careful analysis and sequencing of plaque-purified viruses from recent clinical isolates drew attention to the ULb’ region of the HCMV genome. Using bacterial artificial chromosome technology, it was shown by both gain-of-function and loss-of-function experiments that UL131-128 genes are indispensable for virus growth in endothelial cells and virus transfer to leukocytes. In addition, a number of clinical isolates passaged in human fibroblasts had lost both properties (leuko-tropism and endothelial cell-tropism) when displaying a mutation in the UL131-128 locus (referred to as UL128L). In the following years, it was shown that pUL128L was complexed with gH and gL to form the pentameric complex (PC), which is required to infect endothelial, epithelial and myeloid cells. The immune response to PC was studied extensively, particularly its humoral component, showing that the great majority of the neutralizing antibody response is directed to PC. Although anti-HCMV antibodies may act with other mechanisms than mere neutralizing activity, these findings definitely favour their protective activity, thus paving the way to the development of a potentially protective HCMV vaccine.

Original languageEnglish
Article number000882
Pages (from-to)2215-2234
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of General Virology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Human cytomegalovirus
  • Pentamer complex
  • Vaccine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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